The Pine Ridge Indian reservation is home to the Oglala Lakota Indians. This is the same band that produced some of the most famous and tragic characters in the Old West. Sitting Bull, the great leader who defeated the entire 7th Calvary at the Battle of the Little Big Horn but was later killed by his own people, called an area now encompassed by the reservation home. Crazy Horse, another Lakota warrior, was also from the same region.
Tragically, this storied past of self-sufficiency, martial prowess and some of the last Indian holdouts of the Indian Wars period has given way to ennui and despair. Today, the Pine Ridge residents, most of whom are direct descendants of figures like Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, are wracked with every social pathology known to man. Grinding poverty, low educational attainment and rampant alcoholism are the most prominent features of the landscape that a first time visitor to the reservation will see today. Of all the problems, many see alcoholism as the worst. With the highest rate, by far, of fetal alcohol syndrome, as many as 25 percent of newborns on the reservation are afflicted with the disease.
This serious problem with alcohol has led to the reservation being dry for almost the entirety of its existence. Alcohol sales to its residents are strictly prohibited and violators are punished to the full extent the law will allow. However, this has meant that, since the late 1800s, the nearby town of Whiteclay, Nebraska has taken up the slack that the prohibition on alcohol has left in the marketplace. Located just 5 miles from the reservation, Whiteclay’s sole purpose is selling liquor to Natives. Since the town of 14 has no other industry, this has long struck many activists and politicians as unseemly, at best.
Now, the Nebraska State Liquor Board is considering not renewing the liquor licenses for Whiteclay’s four stores. This would effectively shut them down immediately upon the expiration of their licenses in May. But many believe this well intentioned move is an example of government overreach. They say that, like in Prohibition, it will create more problems than it solves.